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  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: January 2011

2 - Historic Influences on Contemporary Women's Movements


The contemporary women's movements in Africa draw on multiple historic traditions of resistance. They draw some of their tactics from indigenous women's strategies that were part of African societies before colonization. They have also been influenced by experiences of anticolonial resistance and by national liberation movements that thrust women into new roles beyond motherhood, being a wife or an obedient daughter. And finally, and perhaps most directly, they grew in response to the postcolonial party/state-directed women's organizations in the era of single parties and military rule. This chapter traces the historic origins of some of these forms of protest and collective action. It also discusses some of the historical factors, and the impact of colonial policies on civil society and in the area of education that influenced these earlier forms of mobilization.


Contemporary women's movements have drawn on a wealth of historical traditions of collective resistance, some of which predate colonialism. They have been transformed from more localized forms of resistance into broader anticolonial protests, and some tactics have found their way into contemporary protest movements.

Political Motherhood

One older frame for political action that is frequently drawn on in contemporary protest movements is an essentialized notion of “motherhood” (Tibbetts 1994). Motherhood is generally the basis on which women often say they sacrifice for their families, love and rear their children, oppose violence, take selfless action, and carry out many other duties and obligations.

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